Exercise Routine! Part 3: Tasty Ideas

And without further ado, let me present to you the final part of this short series!

The 10 minutes

Have you ever felt like a session of exercise is just going to be too hard to get through? Well, I have. And in fact, today is one of these days. My body is worn from all the traveling about, and my mind’s been duly exercised throughout the day. I just want to head home and sleep.

But there is one trick to get you looking forward to the exercise even when you don’t. I present to you: the 10 minutes.

All you have to do is set a timer on your phone, clock, or watch, and let it tick down to 10 minutes. When the time is up, you can go do anything you want. But before that happens, you must promise to get off your couch and move your body! Do whatever you want, do what you feels fun. Just make sure that you move, and very importantly as highlighted in part 2, accompany this move session with a deliberate practice to feel your body. It might take a bit more brain juice than you are used to, but it is only for 10 minutes.

Plus, you’ll reap the benefits immediately. Sometimes the workload for the day divorces our minds from our bodies, and this short period of time helps you reconnect to your primal, sensual, physical parts. You might actually begin to feel more relaxed than when you first started.

And slowly as you move your body, you might feel that you want to do more with this new momentum generated by the first 10 minutes. Go ahead then – it may even become the most productive workout session of the week yet!

Lifting Randomness

For those of you bored stiff of lifting plain ol’ dumbbells like me, there’s good news – there are many ways to keep your upper body pumping while challenging your arms to adapt to new shapes and weights.

The solution is to set down your dumbbells, and embrace all the random physical things around you. Yes, literally embrace them! Put your arms around the dinner chair and lift it up. Grab hold on the ends of the legs, and behold – more leverage! Grapple on the edge of the sofa and lift it slightly. Carry the side table and do pumping squats with it. The possibilities are quite endless.

When we lift dumbbells or barbells, we isolate specific muscle movements and train them repetitively. That is very effective for body sculpting, but not particularly so for a functional workout! If you want your arms to be relevantly functional, you need to keep forging new connections with how your body reacts with the randomly-shaped, not always ideal-for-carrying objects in the world. It is in fact, as much a brain workout as it is a physical one. You don’t want your mind to slouch in a corner while you train your biceps, so find a way to work those muscles while keeping your brain awake.

One way that works for me is to aim for a specific degree of muscle ache on any part of my body that I’m looking to train, and use non-standard weights like parts of my drumset, the piano chair, or even weighted discs unmounted from adjustable dumb bells, to attain that goal of muscle ache through whatever movements feel natural at the time.

If the weight is too light, sometimes that could mean that I ought to change object, or it could also mean that I could change my grip on the object (like holding the legs of the chair) to increase the load. Sometimes, it could mean that I could offset the lightness by doing more reps, although technically this would train endurance rather than strength; yet both are important and a mind-engaging workout like this should demand active balancing during the spontaneity of the workout. The reason why this works is because ache often correlates to growth; so as long as you are sensitive to not tipping over to the other end of injurious pain you should be doing good!

Movement Complexities

The modern gym-goer is conditioned to think in nicely structured, cleanly defined pigeonholes of compartmentalized movement. “Do tricep extentions for tricep strength! Do squats for leg power! Do high reps low weights for endurance!” And that is really quite the fundamental base of knowledge for every cause-and-effect believing exercise buff. In fact, those with more experience and expertise have a whole host of “moves” that are geared towards specific muscle groups, right down to the modification of each exercise for the particular purpose of the week.

And all that knowledge is really quite splendid. It saves time, allows you to move these building blocks of ideas around to arrange custom-made routines.

But there is one thing that it often misses, and that’s the avid cross-fertilization of specific movements across muscle groups. The average gym-goer tends to build up reps and/or weights over time, and that’s often the effect of settling into a too-comfortable pothole of linear growth and unchallenging, mindless repetition. To help offset this tendency towards mindlessness, I’d suggest an active reconstitution of the moves that you usually do, and combine it with some other movements.

For instance, the pumping squats listed above. That’s essentially a combination of carrying something heavy above your head, squating, and pumping it as you stand up. The reason why it’s such a favourite is because it is easy to do, yet challenging to do properly – you need to pay attention to the co-ordination of the pump up and squat so that you match the bottom and tips of your leg and arm movements together. No longer is this a plain ol’ exertion exercise, it also demands that you pay close attention to the speed of your limb movement relative to each other, with that added load to boot!

Another example of complex movements can include carrying an easily grippable weight, and performing unscripted movements based on the pressure it exerts on your muscles. You could experiment with punching motions, swinging around in arcs of varying arm-length, or slow down and speed up the movements to increase and decrease the difficulty where necessary. Sometimes slowing down the arm movement in an extended swing exposes certain muscle instabilities that need to be strengthened – as can seen by muscle trembles despite what you might think is a very light weight and a simple movement. Repeat the movement slowly and try to get that area strengthened up; this is when play can turn into practice!

Benchmark

Finally, you might be quite concerned that if you took all these suggestions to its full extent, you’ll end up with a different exercise routine every session, and it becomes terribly difficult to maintain any semblance of continuity or trackable growth between them. While I’ll argue that the sanctity and focus of each session should be sufficient to bring you back into the mode whereby you can recall past sessions and build on it, I’ll be the first to admit that the wear and tear of each day usually works on our memories as well, and in a state of low energy, past recall becomes a chore to do with sufficient fidelity, if any.

Hence I’ll recommend one more practice to add on to this completely non-exhaustive list of practices: benchmarking.

Pick any exercise or groups of exercises that you think are indicative of how you feel your goals would look like. For instance, you might want to be able to do one-handed pushups, lift heavier weights, or perform a complicated movement. With that as a benchmark, it should guide your smaller exercise decisions. You can still implement all the creative ideas in this post while working specifically towards your goal.

In fact, this serves to sharpen your exercise routines. You may perform creative, non-standard movements that are fun, enlivening, and mildly different every session, but ultimately they are all focused towards strengthening a particular muscle group and all the relevant supporting muscle groups. This prevents stymmied growth caused by scattered focus.

More importantly, it gives you a sense of continuity – even if you’re lifting other objects in a slightly varied manner each time, so long as it activates the necessary muscle group, you know that you’re building towards the same goal, and you look forward to strengthening that core group of muscles each time their relevant training cycles come along.

To find out if you’re improving, you may want to perform a benchmark test once a a week or after each training session depending on how much time it reasonably takes for your muscles to recover after each exercise period. Perform the exercise if possible, and note for any changes, such as more reps or increased staibility. If the movement cannot be fully completed, don’t push it. Either it takes a longer time to do (like a one-handed pushup) or you need more recovery time. If it is the former, then you may want to break down the benchmark into smaller goals that are doable and visable (like assisted one-handed pushups).

A benchmark need not be linearly marked. It is not necessary that you increase in reps or weight each time you do a benchmark test; you may improve in terms of control, or flexibility, and those can be important too. So it’s vital that you expand your goals if it is too constricted, but of course not to the point of crediting growth when there is really none.

With all these tips, I hope your exercise sessions improve in variety and effectiveness!

For a brief introduction to tthis 3 part series, check out this post: Exercise Routine! Part 1
For a list of good reasons to get your body pumpin’, check out this post: Exercise Routine! Part 2

Return To Your Territory

Castle
When things get hard, and your mind’s in a spin, the best thing to do in the moment is, if you can, return to your territory.

Are you a writer? Write! A musician? Play your instrument. A runner? Go on, hit the road now.

Things may be difficult, but just make a little bit of effort to edge back into the zone of your expertise, and you’ll realize that the skillset of yours that you’ve been honing? It’s actually a territory in itself (complete with hedges, boundaries, an awesome castle and a moat, because, what’s a castle without a moat). The drawbridge may be a bit rusty, and the gate keepers may have forgotten your face if you’ve yet to enter in ages; but give a call anyway, get them to lower the bridge – the owner of the castle is here! Stride right in – or walk, if the mood doesn’t quite allow it – nod to the familiar faces, marvel at all the beautiful things therein (even if it’s for the umpteenth time), and find your place. That place is yours. Let me repeat, that place is yours.

The cultural resource of territorial skillsets actually comes from one of my most inspiring reads ever – the War of Art by Steven Pressfield. To Pressfield, there ain’t such thing as hierarchy to an artist; he hones his craft first and foremost, and worries about where he stands way lat… make that never. Or at least that’s the way it’s ought to be!

As real people though, we tend to get lost in the human tendency to make endless comparisons between ourselves and the “competition”. But that’s okay, because we all know that while being “better” is a reality (higher skills up to a certain level, gets paid more, period), the most conducive mindset to improving in a personally meaningful and sustainable way is to do your art by your own standards. It’s an issue of territory and not heirarchy; while a heirarchical mindset can put you at the bottom of the food chain, a territorial mindset says that the piece of art-land you own is yours; no one can take that away from you, and most importantly it nourishes you. When you just don’t feel like you’re cutting it, and you need a reminder of your place in the world and what you’re here to do – go back to that territory and you will be restored. Your soul will be fed, your chin will be lifted, and you will end up stronger.

That is the whole point of this post really, to remind you that when you’re feeling trashy, go back to your territory and regain your center – you own that place, the seeds you’ve planted there are going to feed you, your lifeblood has been poured into that special dedication of yours and it’ll empower you to face the world with strength when you finally leave your castle and return to the Great Beyond.

For me, that little plot of land is writing. What’s yours?

Creating Cultural Worlds

Worlds

Have you ever read a book that challenged the way you saw the world and lived your life? I’m quite sure we all have. For me, a good book like that can tend to make me have a whole host of things that I want to start implementing and changing about myself and my life, but it’s just impossible to do it all at once. Sometimes I let it slip and forget about it after awhile.

Yet inevitably, the kind of calling that is derived from the spirit of the book, or the voice of the author (whichever makes more sense to you), just returns to me in very unexpected ways. Sometimes a huge change in my life frees up resources, or gives me a worldview that enables me to start exploring those thought-provoking themes that drew my attention in the first place. Sometimes it’s during the routine of daily living that I am suddenly awakened to the realities described in some long-forgotten perused-through book.

This may lead to my decision to implement certain lifestyle changes or it may not, but to potentially influence another person in this same manner is one of the reasons why I write.

I see writing as an act of creating an entire cultural world. We may be adding onto another’s world, building bits of our own, or creating an entirely new one, but it is a creation that has so much potential to transform.

What do I mean by a cultural world? Well, just like the normal world, a cultural world contains an entire ecosystem of resources and organisms. Say if we decide to learn a new skill, we are drawing from pools of cultural resources that teach us how, when, and even why we perform it. After trying it out, we realize that this method may or may not be good for us; we write a review, a comment, or a blogpost – and add another bit of substance to that pool. We are the organisms that participate in a growing cycle of resources that contribute to that particular cultural act, and through our contributions, we affect other organisms who draw from our resources too. This cyclic activity is reminiscent of how a world works!

Building on that, a world has different continents and ecologies to go with them. Some parts of the world are more pertinent to the “why” of our actions. For instance, blogposts that explore our reasons and intentions, our foundations for living and doing. Other are catered to the emotional side of us (think art blogs, webcomics, poetry… and plain ol’ relationship or heart-centered content!), and it either directly or indirectly influences our emotions towards a particular “world” of being. There are so many parts (perhaps just one more example; the practical side of things – such as wikihows, to-do-lists, efficiency and effectiveness blogs etc.) to a single world, and each part has its own way that we the organisms may relate to the resource pools. For example, we might be more open to just feeling through the heart-centered “continents” of that world, or maybe contributing to it via our own creative work, while the more practical “continent” would demand that we engage more of our minds and bodies by practicing, engaging, and critiquing.

Once again if you’re a bit lost (pardon my idea-rambles!), a world could be something like “Exercise!” and the various continents could be the emotional side, such as motivational videos, pictures of superfit people doing cool things to get us pumping; the practical side, such as how our metabolism works, what kind of exercises are good for building which part of the muscle; the foundational side, such as why we exercise – to look good, to feel good, or to do good (carrying heavy things around, saving kitties from trees, saving people from fires)? Each of these continents have different ecologies which demand different kind of responses from us!

Finally, just like the real world, cultural worlds have habitats and food chains too. We have to learn how to find our own place to dwell in, and how to hunt our food. Say if I’m learning about drumming, I’ll have to know which skill sets I’m looking to improve, and where I could go about to find these resources e.g. youtube to search for bass-drum techniques? Not all videos are going to be effective for me, so I’m going to have to be more selective, and hunt down only the food that I need. It might take a bit of trial and error, but eventually I’ll probably find a couple of tasty ones and pry off the meat till there’s only bones left! After awhile I’ll learn what are the kinds of resources that are really useful to me (it’ll probably change over time), and collectively, it becomes like a habitat to me, a place where I know I can find food easily, and rest safely while digesting all these tasty information.

So… back to writing! In essence when we write, we create ways to think, do and feel that gives others a platform to develop their own, and also resource, nay, an entire world to share in. The very fundamentals of writing itself in fact draws from the cultural worlds of language, and formatting, and idioms. In other words, we are always interconnected. To contribute to somebody’s ability to see the very world around us, and to act in it – that just feels very powerful and connecting indeed; we don’t write into our little bubbles of thought, but it enters into someone else’s reality, pierces through the veil of disconnect, and transforms them either now, or sometime later. Alternatively, they enter into the landscape and atmosphere of our words and begin to inhabit it, growing their own populations of living, breathing ways of seeing, doingand feeling that makes it very much their own as well.

So next time you write, do pause a moment and think of the kind of powers you wield – we are building new worlds here, you and I!

Soft Muse of Old

Sit next to me,
soft muse of old,
your voice is ever-young.

Warm my frosted
fingers, without catch for
so, so long,
wriggling through
all the world’s
word-spun ether,
in search for worthiness –
worthiness that inspires
ink to spill.

Yesterday’s parchment
peel dry in your absence,
and today’s crumble
in thirst.

Come dip
your genteel feet into
those black pools
and dance upon the sheets-

Until the crusty papyrus
is washed,
until upon it, life itself unfolds
unfettering-

Sit next to me,
soft muse of old,
and be so ever-young.

The Random Factor

Image

Ever felt like you’re in a jam with your creative work?

Well, here’s a funky solution for you. Take out a fresh sheet of paper, and brainstorm the 6 most ridiculous course of actions you can take, then label them from 1 to 6.

Don’t think too much, don’t judge yourself, just trust the soup and go with the flow.

Then roll a die. Now, gulp before checking the number. Eeks!

After you’ve gulped in fearful/gleeful anticipation, check the number, and consult the respective course of action according to its label.

Finally, proceed to do exactly as it dictates!

Example:
1) Main character falls in love with a female dragon and attempts to put a ring on its claw
2) The female character reveals that she was a man all along, and wanted to steal the King’s riches after marrying him
3) The Energy Being fizzles off suddenly in mid-battle, causing great confusion among his allies
4) Food starts falling from the sky, and the farmers across the land are put out of a job. They rebel and riot across the kingdom.
5) 5 of the King’s most trust men reveal themselves to be assassins, but they have double-crossed both sides so many times they’re not sure who they belong to anymore
6) The main character dies due to some form of hubris, and the perspective of the book changes to another character (ooo R.R Martin must have rolled this one many times when he wrote Game of Thrones)

Some of these suggestions really make me want to writhe in an author-ly convulsion because I would have to revamp the entire storyline just to fit them in! But then, as I think about it, a few plot changes here and there are actually good to keep. I can discard the rest. It is in my power to do so. And furthermore, now that I’ve got my creative juices flowing, I can begin to incorporate various elements that I’ve never thought of before into my current story to make it all the more amazing and write-worthy (support the I-write-because-I-love-writing movement!).

Once more, the purpose of this exercise is to simply get you out of a funk.

So, for it to work well, promise yourself not to think too much, not to censor yourself, and write whatever comes. Don’t even think of the consequences of what happens if you implement something ridiculous in your work, because at this stage, consequences will freeze you, and you want to get unstuck, don’t you?

But even if you can’t rid your mind of anxious thoughts (like – what will I do when the main character gets killed off!), you can calm it down by re-assuring yourself that you can always undo the changes you’ve made if you don’t like it. Chances are, if it doesn’t work, it’ll spark some other creative thought as well, and it’ll probably take your work to new heights.

So whenever you get stuck, take some risks, trust the random factor, and roll a die!